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How Does the South Carolina Supreme Court Work?

The South Carolina judicial system includes the courts, the prosecution, and the defense elements. In the court structure, the South Carolina Supreme Court is the highest tribunal in the State and has both original and appellate jurisdiction. However, it typically functions in its appellate capacity only.

The Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction pertains to the issuance of writs, mandamus, habeas corpus, certiorari, and other original and remedial writs. Typically, the court only exercises its original jurisdiction in cases that involve substantial public interest or other unusual circumstances.

The court exercises its appellate jurisdiction over cases of equity. In these appeals, the court reviews the findings of fact and law, except in cases where a jury has settled the facts, and the ruling was not set aside.

The published decisions of the Supreme Court are a binding precedent on the lower courts in South Carolina. This means that the decisions serve as a framework for how future cases are to be decided.

In addition to deciding cases, the South Carolina Supreme Court administers the State’s entire court system. It ensures that the South Carolina court system runs reasonably and efficiently. Its administrative functions include:

  • Budgeting for the entire unified South Carolina judicial system
  • Planning long-range to chart the future of the courts in the State to make sure that judicial matters are expeditiously handled
  • Adopting rules to simplify court proceedings further and foster speedy and fair resolution of disputes
  • Establishing standards for facilities, security, and staffing for courthouses in the State
  • Developing standards to make sure that jurors are well treated and that their time is not wasted
  • Identifying suitable means to use court-related alternative dispute resolution, which may be less expensive for citizens and may improve satisfaction with the justice system.

The Supreme Court attends to cases on certiorari from the South Carolina Court of Appeals and seven classes of appeals directly from the family and circuit courts. It has exclusive jurisdiction over the seven classes of appeal. These classes of appeal are cases involving:

  • The death penalty
  • Election laws
  • Public utility rates
  • Significant constitutional issues
  • An order of a family court relating to the abortion of a minor
  • Public bond issues
  • An order restricting the investigation by a state grand jury

Any other class of appeal from the family and circuit courts are apportioned between the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction over such classes of appeals and may decide not to hear the case. The court also has exclusive authority to attend to appeals from the Circuit Court on decisions relating to:

  • A death sentence
  • An order setting a public utility rate
  • An order restricting the investigation by a State Grand order
  • An election
  • A public bond indebtedness
  • A constitutional challenge to a local ordinance or state law
  • An order of the Family Court relating to an abortion by a minor

The Supreme Court may, on its own accord, certify an appeal pending before the Court of Appeals for determination by the Supreme Court. Also, this can be by a motion of a party or the Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court makes its decisions based on briefs, lower court transcripts, and oral arguments. Other than hearing and deciding cases, the South Carolina Supreme court also can make rules for the unified judicial system. This includes overseeing the admission of persons to practice law in South Carolina and supervising the discipline of attorneys and the suspension of those who are no longer able to practice as a result of a mental or physical condition.

As mandated under Section 14–3–10 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, the Supreme Court comprises a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices. The South Carolina General Assembly elects these justices for a term of ten years. Note, a Justice may be re-elected to various terms as the terms are staggered. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the administrative head of the judicial system. It has the duty of exercising that authority according to procedures of the Supreme Court and General Assembly.

To be considered for Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, Section 2–19–35(A) of the South Carolina Constitution provides specific qualifications that the candidate must meet. The Judicial Merit Selection Commission is responsible for investigating and considering the qualifications of each candidate. The Judicial Merit Selection Commission is to consider:

  • Constitutional qualifications
  • Ethical fitness
  • Professional and academic ability
  • Character,
  • Physical health
  • Reputation
  • Mental stability
  • Experience
  • Judicial temperament

The Commission must also consider gender, race, national origin, and other demographic factors when making nominations for Supreme Court Justice. This is to ensure that there is no discrimination. Usually, when the Commission is done investigating the candidates, it schedules a public hearing.

However, the Commission’s Chairman may choose to overgo this hearing if there is no known opposition to a candidate and no substantial reason to hold a public hearing. The decision of the Chairman to overgo the hearing must be on the recommendation of the Commission, and there must have been no request by at least six members of the Commission for a public hearing.

South Carolina Supreme Court justices may be removed only on any of the following conditions:

  • If the Justice is discovered to have a disability that seriously interferes with the performance of duties and which may be permanent
  • If the Justice is guilty of judicial misconduct
  • If impeached by a two-thirds vote from the South Carolina House of Representatives and convicted and removed with a two-thirds vote from the South Carolina Senate
  • If removed by the governor upon the address of two-thirds of the houses of the general assembly

Interested persons can visit the South Carolina Judicial Branch website to search for the South Carolina Supreme Court case records. Users may view events as well as other necessary case information relating to the searched case. The site may also provide the documents related to an event in the case. However, Supreme Court case records that are non-public, sealed, or confidential are not accessible on the website.

The Judicial Branch also publishes a roster of cases that the Supreme Court is to hear. It includes a summary of the cases, as well as the attorneys for each party. Note, some case records that are not attainable online may be available for inspection at the courthouse. To contact the South Carolina Supreme Court, call (803) 734–1080, send a fax to (803) 734–1499, or mail to

Supreme Court of South Carolina

P. O. Box 11330

Columbia, SC 29211

Alternatively, visit the Clerk of Court office during business hours between Mondays and Fridays from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm at:

Supreme Court Building

1231 Gervais Street

Columbia, South Carolina 29201

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